Analysis and Commentary

From data to decisions — three game changers explain how to get there

Analysis and Commentary

Nowadays manufacturers are, with few exceptions, in the data and analytics game. Data improves their own and their customers’ operations. 

Three high-tech Australian startups provide extreme examples.

Each is solving a very different problem — quality assurance and control issues in additive manufacturing, the need for robots to grip objects better, and finding the best possible fit for clothing — but each relies on collecting data, knowing what to make of it, and turning it into something useful.

Marten Jurg turned his PhD work into Additive Assurance, a Monash University spinout offering in-process detection of defects in laser powder bed fusion AM.

Picture: Additive Assurance

It is aiming to improve on quality control through CT scanning, a time-consuming and expensive process, and one that catches problems only after an expensive print job has been produced.

“Manufacturers don’t want more data. They don’t know what to do with the data they already have. They want… outcomes that can either improve their throughput or quality or some other measure,” says Jurg, whose company’s technology uses spectral imaging to capture manageable amounts of data, applying machine learning to it to catch issues.

“Back when we were still researchers at Monash Uni, that was one of the big questions we had to come to grips with. We thought we had this amazing idea of providing all this rich data to these manufacturers. Turns out they don’t want that. They want to know ‘What do I need to do to fix my problem? And don’t tell me anything else because I’m busy.’”

Contactile also has its origins in university research, specifically on work from University of NSW inspired by human tactile sensing to give robot grippers a sense of touch. 

Robot dexterity limits automation in many industries. Contactile’s approach measures deformation in soft pads when a robot picks up an object, converting this into information like shear, rotation and slipperiness, while keeping the amount of data manageable for edge computing in real-time.

Developer kits are being sold to robotics and prosthetic researchers and it is exploring collaborations with private businesses to commercialise its products.

Co-founder and CEO Dr Heba Khamis says in a lot of cases a customer wouldn’t know what to do with data produced, and it’s “the job of the person who’s trying to sell the value of the data to give it value. So rather than selling data we want to sell information.”

In her company’s case this might mean implementing this data into a robot gripper’s control loop so it can run autonomously.

“So the data is there and it’s a feature, but in most respects [customers] probably don’t care about it that much,” she adds.

Bodd serves clothing retailers, uniform providers and others, offering a collection of products such as body scanners, cloud computing solutions and 3D printers. The goal of all this is to enable clients to provide clothing that fits beautifully with as little effort as possible.

Picture: bodd

Bodd is an SaaS business, charging customers per scan. It has partnered with Bosch, which has industrialised and manufactures Bodd’s hardware, and provides distribution and service support to customers.

Raw data is produced in abundance, says Bodd co-founder and CEO Rob Fisher, but the question is what users can do with that.

“Largely it comes down to good quality technology to process that scan data to create what we call analytics, what Heba refers to as information,” he explains. 

“You’ve kind of got this somewhat escalating value of information or analytics that can end up informing insights and predicting trends etc. So depending on the business challenge that you’re solving, raw data is very rarely of value.”

Fisher’s company is collecting personal data, and is emphatic about treating this in an ethical way. He mentions that a company strength is its expert legal and other advisers helping inform custodianship and use of customer data in what the company’s engineers build.

“So that data can be used and transferred and processed and shared in ways that not only surpass any form of global legislation… but [also] done in a really ethical way that puts the consumer at the centre of that,” Fisher explains.

“We’ve got a view that data rights are human rights, and that might sound a little bit unusual, but in a couple of years time that will be a really widely-held belief.”

Main picture: Contactile

Marten Jurg, Heba Khamis and Rob Fisher are panel guests for “Game changers — manufacturers redefining their sectors” on Thursday November 4, 12:30 – 1:30 AEDT. For more information and to register for the web event — the third and final in a series by @AuManufacturing and MYOB — please see this link.

Subscribe to our free @AuManufacturing newsletter here.

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